Rejoice! (1)

The foundation of a positive world view


10. August 2020In DevotionalBy Karsten Risseeuw19 Minutes

Being human is not necessarily an easy walk. Believing in God does not solve all questions and challenges. We remain who we are. We still face the same challenges as other human beings. So, how does this faith, this trust in God, affect our lives? For many this seems “incomprehensible”. In the light of these questions it is quite interesting to read what the apostle Paul writes to the fellowship in Philippi, where he addresses this type of question.

The Art of Life

Carefree times in life are important. Those who have been young for a longer time, already experienced that life has its ups and downs. Many times we are challenged. Can our life be shaped differently if we take our faith into account? The apostle Paul talks about these things in his letter to the Philippians.

To be human is what forms our existence. This does not change when we start to believe. We may find a greater confidence, true hope and outlook, or we may experience a deep communion with God. However great, this doesn’t solve our daily challenges. We remain human, but we can learn to balance our lives in the light of Gods presence.

A misapplication of our imagination

Our human experience is not always nice. We worry about things that are still in the future. We may have a financial need and forego many things. Bills need to be paid, we have friends in trouble, worry about our children or parents. Relationships fall apart. We might loose jobs, health, security. Things we didn’t expect simply happen. If we feel connected to other people, this will influence our thoughts. If you worry, you think about something that has yet to come. We worry about the future. However, we live, survive and thrive only in the present.

Worrying, I read recently, is a misapplication of our imagination. I found this an interesting and accurate comparison. What we worry about only exists in our imagination. We worry about what is not yet clear. Even if we make educated guesses about any development, we still cannot look beyond the current moment. As human beings we only live in the present – even if the present is tense (the present tense, so to speak).

We learn over time. The human experience runs along the time. It is essential how we experience and form this time. Standing between past and future, we stand in a unique position. Which attitude towards life and which expectation shape our existence? Worry is something terrible over the course of time. Those who worry can feel it as restricting, as oppressive, as arduous or as a heavy burden – typical analogies to physical reactions. Our thoughts are closely linked to our bodily experiences.

While we learn and live during “time”, how would you like to live this time today and in the future? That is where the gospel comes in. That is what Paul writes about.

Paul to the Philippians

Let us now read what Paul once wrote to the church in Philippi. His words are wise and show real confidence. And yes, he sounds a little crazy at first. Be patient when reading, while we dive right into it to discover what he meant.

This is what he tells the Philippians:

Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice. Let your gentleness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand; do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
Philippians 4:4-7

Paul doesn’t start with the worries. On the contrary! He asks us to “rejoice in the Lord always”. To be honest, I’d be cautious if someone would be asking me to simply overlook my troubles. Is Paul crazy? Well, Paul does not mean an escape from the world, but a real joy, felt also by you and me. It is about the alignment of our thoughts with the reality of God. That is something quite different.

What the apostle points to is this: We should direct our thoughts towards good things. More specifically, Paul directs to the grace of God. The Lord is near! That is about an intimate understanding of this world in the light of Gods and Christs nearness. But how can that be experienced? Paul mentions two aspects.

  1. The first thing is about themselves. Paul seeks to persuade the Philippians to give the reality of God in their lives a grateful and joyful place. Rejoice! Step into Gods reality.
  2. Then he continues to write: “Let your gentleness be known to all men”. That is the second aspect. Here it is not about our thoughts, but about our actions in this world, towards others.

These are the two components needed. Both together embrace the entirety of this world from Gods perspective of grace. What should people see of us? Gentleness. That is mildness, warmheartedness, an active attitude towards encountering other people with grace and love. Who are meant here? All people, universally. As far as it depends on us, of course (cp. Romans 12:18).

So, we should consciously base our thoughts in the reality of Gods grace, and we should also consciously stand in this world, which ultimately is His. From this position we may witness to His grace, goodness and mildness towards us.

These two aspects encompass ourselves and the world in which we stand. We learn to see ourselves from God’s perspective. What remains is our experience. This experience is not always positive. Therefore, it is human and understandable as we tend to worry again and again.

Let’s see what Paul suggests to the Philippians to overcome this worrying.

Do not be anxious

That’s where Paul exclaims: “Do not be anxious about anything!”

Is that just another crazy thought? Remember that Paul is not addressing extreme issues, but he is writing a letter to a congregation. They should live as a fellowship. They should be compassionate about the right things. This community should be thriving together. Be aware Paul does not write a handbook of psychology for single peoples needs, but it is sober minded advice from a wise man for a larger community.

Paul speaks from his experience. Whatever is on our minds should not circle endlessly around ourselves. Rather, we should make known every wish we have to God. Everything that occupies our minds should be directed to Him. We should put our worries not just aside, but consciously handing everything over to our God and Father – and leave it there. It is like putting trust into action. We do not know everything. We have fears. Mind boggling thoughts might occupy our minds. Paul encourages us to change that state of mind.

This is the suggestion: Bring all your worries to God, Who is above All. That does not mean that praying would solve all issues – it will not. But worrying can be killing all positive thoughts and hope. Bring your worry to Him, then start to act, trusting Him. Your thoughts will change. It’s like getting a sound foundation, gaining confidence by trust. By perceiving things from Gods perspective, you gain some distance to your current troubles. That can be very freeing.

Paul also explains how to do this: “but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God”.

Don’t be shy! Put your requests before Him. Be bold. Be yourself. Just be aware that asking specific things is not the same as making known what truly occupies your mind. This is not about an Amazon wishlist and someone comes along to simply buy you all the stuff you thought you needed. It doesn’t work like that.

In the intimate relationship with God we pray. Out of our consternation we implore. We pour out our heart before Him. We link these things by giving thanks, by being grateful. Thanksgiving is the wrapper around all thoughts and requests and everything that bothers us. To be thankful is the key. Many letters of Paul begin with giving thanks to God. Thus, the attitude, the expectation, the impossibility of our powers is embedded in trusting His work and our thoughts rest in gratefulness. If we align our life with Gods thoughts “by being thankful”, it will have a lasting impact on the way you live.

Our needs may not diminish, but we stand in it differently. We do not have to give thanks for the bad things or for sufferings or our needs, but we can align our thinking with Gods thinking and start thanking for the good things. If we do not succeed in this at the first attempt, we can practice it. Make all your wishes known to him, including your wish to succeed here, where you want to learn to trust. Be thankful. Don’t stop. The Lord is near.

The peace of God

There also is a promise. Paul addresses people like us. They lived in other times, but they had very similar concerns that trouble us as well. Paul makes it clear that we do not get everything we might want. There is no promise of health, economic success, the fulfillment of certain dreams or other such things. The promise is quite different:

“And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”

That peace of God is the promise. Those who worry will experience peace when we turn to Him. A heart that is troubled by worry can find rest. What do you wish for more? That peace “surpasses all understanding”. Perhaps we analyze exactly why our situation is catastrophic, perhaps even hopeless. These are the thoughts that circulate in our heads. The peace of God is not the better analysis. It is not the liberating flash of lightning by which all problems can be solved. The peace of God transcends such considerations.

The peace of God, writes Paul, will keep our hearts and our minds in Christ Jesus. This can be understood in a way that we may rest with our hearts and our minds in Christ Jesus. He “will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus”. That is like gaining an unshakable position. It’s where we are safe in God’s presence.

Of course these are all images, words that Paul uses to describe the closeness to God, to invite us into that relationship. The Lord is near! Until the words and their meaning work their way into our lives, we must link them to our experience. We store thoughts via emotions and experiences. A word may remain just a word until we set out on our own and place ourselves in the trusting closeness to God. There we experience the word and it’s power. “In everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.” Paul says: Do this and that, and then the peace of God will be felt.

The peace of God is not an impersonal concept. It is not a power to tap into. It is not a peaceful immersion or mystical experience, but rather the peace “of God”, namely His peace. We share in Gods peace. It is a peace that is experienced through relationship. However, it is based on an understanding of God’s being, as well as of His actions and work in this world – and in your life. Be assured that God Himself will work in your life. He can make Himself known to you, and give you His grace and peace.

The order is: hear, think, act, experience. Ultimately, this is not something you achieve, but the experience will be that of a gift, given by God Himself (cp. Ephesians 2:8-10).

“Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.”
Philippians 1:2

Rejoice!

For the apostle Paul this rejoicing was clear. He did not proclaim impersonal ethics. He was not concerned with tradition or with any recipes for success. For him, it was about the relationship with the living God. He trusted God. At the end of the letter, he summarizes:

“My God will supply every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus.”
Philippians 4:19

My God! That is his personal attachment. That God “will supply every need of yours” is the personal understanding of Paul for the Philippians. Now one could start again from this verse and ask what exactly is our “need”. But it seems much more important that He “according to His riches in glory in Christ Jesus” fills this need. The focus is  on God and on what He does. It is less about the needs – even if they are real. Paul trusts that there are things that are greater and more important than our immediate perception or experience. By trusting God, you see your life in a larger context. That is where transformation starts.

“Rejoice!” is the reminder of this greater context of God.

Original German version of this article: Freut Euch (1).